News Blog for Seattle's Wallingford Neighborhood

 

Homeless shelter to open Wednesday

September 12th, 2010 · 39 Comments

Neighbors of the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church at N. 40th and Meridian learned a couple of days ago that a SHARE shelter hosting up to 15 homeless men and women nightly would soon move into the church, which also houses a preschool.

This afternoon about 75 neighbors and preschool parents showed up to hear more about the SHARE shelter and to do some sharing of their own.

The shelter is a done deal and will open Wednesday, September 15, in the balcony section of the church, two floors up from Huckleberry Forest Preschool in the basement. The two communities will not share space, and the shelter will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Pastor Jami Fecher, who facilitated the meeting, said the SHARE group has a signed lease that “they can be there for a year, or gone in a day.” “They’re totally committed to making no impact. If they do, they’re gone,” said the pastor. “That was a big selling point to me. I live next door. I don’t want trouble!”

Up to 15 homeless people will sleep in this balcony space in the Gift of Grace Lutheran Church.

Three residents — Lantz, Wendell and Alex — described the 20-year-old SHARE organization, which runs 15 indoor shelters and two tent cities. “We’re not a social service organization,” said Lantz. “We’re a self-help organization.” The residents must adhere to strict rules to sleep in the shelter (see some at the end of this post).

Alex described that potential residents are screened at a SHARE office downtown, and people choose which shelter they prefer. They don’t do a background check — their main concern is whether a newcomer can respect the rules of the shelter, the host and the neighborhood. There’s communication among the SHARE shelters about rule offenders and people who have been banned.

SHARE has opened shelters recently in Green Lake and Ballard, where the discovery that a Level III sex offender was living in the shelter for weeks was on the minds of many of today’s participants, who were outraged that SHARE doesn’t do background checks and that the church didn’t require them. The SHARE representatives explained that in the Ballard shelter, the sex offender was unregistered. When he registered, the Department of Corrections notified SHARE, and the offender was kicked out.

SHARE employee Marvin said that the group has a relationship with the Department of Corrections and the sheriff’s department whereby they let SHARE know if a sex offender has reported seeking a space in a shelter. Plus, the shelter checks the list of sex offenders, and they share a list of residents with the church, so the church can check for itself. But there’s a catch: A lot of homeless people don’t have identification, and organizers have to rely on their word.

Alex said, “If you’re a registered sex offender, you can’t stay in this shelter. If they lie, they’ll be put on a barred list.” There are three designated SHARE shelters for sex offenders (the Gift of Grace won’t be among them).

These assurances didn’t seem to quell the fears of some Huckleberry Forest Preschool parents, who were particularly upset that they’d just learned that the shelter would move into the church. The preschool owners, Aida and Vedad Mahmulyin, also said they weren’t consulted about the decision and wanted to know how the church could ensure that sex offenders wouldn’t stay at the shelter. Pastor Fecher acknowledged he couldn’t make such a guarantee and reiterated that “the homeless won’t be in the space during the same time the children are.”

The pastor’s lack of communication to the community was the biggest issue of the meeting. One preschool mother summed it up when she said, “We’re not mad at SHARE, we’re mad at the church.” Many people were upset that the shelter’s move into the church was decided with no input from neighbors or the school, but only from the church congregation. A group stormed out, calling the proceedings “a farce” when the pastor affirmed that only members of the congregation should have a voice in what happens in the church.

One neighbor whose backyard abuts the church property got much applause when he addressed Pastor Fecher and the SHARE members: “When you talk about NIMBY, it really is my backyard,” said John. He described finding out about the shelter through a note stuck on his door. “I’ve always felt a sense of consideration in Wallingford, and I didn’t feel I got that,” he said. “Now I have 15 new neighbors. What you do within your walls can affect us positively and maybe negatively.”

A few neighbors were at the meeting in support of the church’s decision. One neighbor said she got adequate notification and information. Another shared the story of her own homelessness and how painful it was to hear that “just by being homeless you’re a lowlife.”

John, a neighbor who has worked with the homeless, said “the homeless community knows the people in the homeless community. We’re better off having a controlled presence, having a group that’s working hard and not just passing through the neighborhood.”

Linda, who owns Irwin’s Cafe one block from the church, also spoke up in favor of the shelter. Her cafe is open when the shelter folks show up, and she employs teenage girls who she said were much more likely targets than the preschool students. “I came here with concerns about the guys, and I’m leaving here with my concerns answered,” she said. “I think it’s almost safer for our neighborhood that we have a more controlled environment. I feel safe and good that our neighborhood is reaching out. The church did make a mistake by not being more forthright about what they were going to do.”

Pastor Fecher agreed to keep the community more involved formally from now on, and will set up meetings this week. He vowed to improve communication in the future and agreed he may have “abdicated my responsibility” in keeping the neighborhood informed. “My thinking was that SHARE has done this repeatedly and knew the best way to do this,” he said. Marvin from SHARE took responsibility for the delayed meeting.

The shelter will open at 7 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. Quiet time is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. These are among the 37 rules that participants must obey to stay in the shelter:

  • There is no loitering the neighborhood during non-shelter hours. The neighborhood has been defined with borders at Latona Ave., N. 35th St., N. 45th, and Stone Way.
  • There is no loitering in the neighborhood during shelter hours.
  • A minimum of four shelter members, incl. on in a leadership position, may be present to open the shelter.
  • No participant can enter the shelter after 9 p.m.
  • Sobriety is required when at the shelter.
  • No drugs or alcohol are allowed on church property.
  • No physical violence or verbal abuse is tolerated at the shelter.
  • If anyone leaves or is dismissed from the shelter, he’ll be escorted to the bus stop and boarded on the next bus downtown.

Organizers said that if the shelter isn’t doing what it’s says it’s doing, SHARE will shut it down, reorganize it and reopen it. Here are the circumstances under which the shelter would close the next evening and reopen only after the problem is resolved:

  • Drugs, drug paraphernalia, or alcoholic beverage containers are found and no one is identified and held accountable.
  • The shelter space is left in a disorderly/unclean state.
  • Community residents accurately report loitering or neighborhood disruptions by shelter participants.
  • Destruction, vandalizing or theft of church or neighborhood property occurs.
  • A pattern of rule violations occurs.

Pastor Fecher urged community members to call him with any concerns or input at 206-226-5299. To speak to Marvin at SHARE, call 206-448-7889.

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